Tool Box 2: Academic Integrity & Online Assessments

This is a Tool Box Section that provides guides and ideas for online assessments. Visit the FAQ Section for more help.

This section will take you 40 – 70 minutes to complete.

By the end of this section, you will know more emerging practices for online assessment.

Problems with Synchronous Online Exams

If you relied on students going to the Testing Centre to take your midterms and final exams, you probably find yourself at a loss. The problem is, there is not a sound way for you to distribute an online, in-person exam that upholds academic integrity. If you do rely on exams for your courses, there are a few adjustments you can make to ensure that your students maintain academic honesty and your grading practices are still valid and reliable.

Read the Grade Network’s (2018) blog about the Importance of Validity and Reliability in Classroom Assessments.

TIP: Online exams that are high stakes and require a proctor are not the best option for you or your students. There are many alternative methods of assessing students.

Creating shortened timelines and strict rules around a synchronous online exam leads to heightened anxiety for your students. This, in turn, may lead to:

  • More questions about instructions during the exam
  • More requests for accommodation
  • An increase in clerical errors during exam writing.

For more information about transitioning to online exams, please visit Waterloo’s Teaching Tips.

TIP: The University of Calgary recommends a minimum time-frame of 24 hours for a student to complete a final assessment that is replacing a synchronous, online exam.

There are circumstances beyond your control. Even if you utilize an online proctor software that closes out access to other applications on a single device, this does not ensure academic integrity. Your students will most likely have access to another device that is not being invigilated, like a smartphone. Your students can still gain knowledge from their friends and roommates, or even share information freely.

Here are some other notes about challenges your students face when writing online exams:

  • Students may not have a stable internet connection while testing.
  • Many students are sharing computers, so creating a shortened, designated time to access an exam may not be feasible for some.
  • Your students may now live in different time zones and mistake that time of your exam.
  • If your students haven’t had any experience taking timed, online exams, you are assessing their ability to complete this type of exam without teaching them how to do it.

(University of Calgary, _EDC co-curated covid resources, n.d.)

Checking for cheating is neither convenient nor guaranteed. There are loopholes in many of these approaches and cheating may be difficult to prove. It is for this reason that we recommend you consider changing your assessment to accommodate online learning environments.

Considerations for Synchronous Exams

If you must keep a synchronous, online exam, we recommend you consider adopting two techniques:

  1. Consider making your online exams more low-stakes. Students are more apt to cheat on an assignment or exam when the weight is extremely high. While this method may not be the easiest to adopt, it can be a consideration as you build your course.
  2. If you are sticking with a final exam, you may want to consider how you can reduce the weight of the exam.
  3. Include an honour statement for your students to sign for the course or a particular assessment piece. We have created a sample template for you in the FAQ Section.

The Taylor Institute for Learning (n.d.) recommends you avoid these four things when you are building an assessment:

  1. High stakes exams
  2. Makeshift proctoring
  3. Tight deadlines
  4. Inflexibility

Find more here (includes video and methods to approaching academic integrity).

Here are some other tips & tricks for building better online exams:

  • Have randomly generated questions for each student;
    • This means you need a large question set.
  • Limit the duration of the exam and the number of attempts a student has for any question;
  • Consider how the questions are delivered to the student;
  • Limit the availability period of the exam;
    • Keep in mind students’ accessibility of internet and a computer.
  • Withhold feedback and grades until the exam has closed;
  • Consider using calculated questions with random values that are automatically generated for each variable in the question;
  • Increase the number of open-ended and essay-style questions;
  • Increase the frequency and suddenness of ‘pop’ quizzes;
    • This practice is not feasible for at-home parents and will greatly heighten anxiety in your class.
  • Track and monitor when students access your course materials.
    • If you are uncertain if a student is engaging with materials, check Moodle to help your investigation.
  • Clearly define what cheating means in your class and share this with your students;
  • Share your learning outcomes with your students; and,
  • Provide detailed grading criteria.

(Indiana University, _EDC co-curated COVID-19 resources, n.d.)


Looking for more help? See the FAQ Section, which includes a guide to common errors made in writing exam questions.



1 The information cited has come from a co-curated COVID Resources and Strategy Resources Google Document has been created and continues to be updated daily. You can find the document in References

Extended Resources

University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Learner-centred assessment. Retrieved April 17, 2020 from


(n.d.) _EDC co-curated covid resources and strategy resources. [Google Doc].

Grade Network, The. (2018, September 10). Importance of validity and reliability in classroom assessments.

University of Calgary. (n.d.). Academic integrity in online courses: Adapting during covid-19. Taylor Institute.

University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Teaching tips: Assessing students. Centre for Teaching Excellence.




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Fit for Online Learning Copyright © 2020 by U of L Teaching Centre: Jördis Weilandt, Erin Reid, Kristi Thomas, Brandy Old, and Jeff Meadows is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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